Winter recreation off to a strong start across Southcentral, Interior Alaska

Ski resorts open early and daily ice skating and trail maintenance begins
Westchester Lagoon Ice Skating Area
Westchester Lagoon Ice Skating Area(Alaska's News Source)
Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 7:46 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Winter hasn’t even officially started, but the winter recreation season across most of Alaska is already off to a strong start.

The snow depth in Anchorage holds strong at 12 inches. We’ve only seen that much snow on the ground in December one other time in the last six years, and that was in 2018. We’ve seen consistent snowfall about every third day for the last three weeks with a total of 20.9 inches for the season.

Fairbanks has also had a strong start to the season with a snow depth currently of 14 inches after 35.4 inches of snow fell so far this year. That’s more than five inches above last year at this time and above what’s normal.

Juneau was off to a promising start with 17 inches of snow in November and a snow depth of at least six inches for most of the month. The hopes of an early start to the ski season though melted right along with the snow. Temperatures warmed above freezing for the first nine days of December, dropping the snow depth to zero. Storm after storm also delivered heavy rain to the area, eating away at most of the snowpack even for the mountains where the early season snowfall numbers were even more impressive.

Eaglecrest Ski Area reported 80 inches of snow in November but after the warm and wet start to December, only seven inches remain on the ground.

The resort also says they had some of the largest avalanches they’ve seen in years near their West bowl. Originally they had planned on opening a week ago, but will now wait on colder temperatures and prepare to make some snow of their own.

“Mountain operations staff are preparing for a large scale snowmaking run on the Hooter Chairlift, using the pump house and pipeline installed in 2018. There will be snow guns, hoses, cables, and staff all over, so the Sourdough trail will be closed,” said Charlie Herrington, marketing manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area.

There are a number of ski resorts in Southcentral and the Interior already open or planning to open soon.

Status of ski resorts in Alaska as of December 11, 2020
Status of ski resorts in Alaska as of December 11, 2020(Alaska's Weather Source)

Winter enthusiasts turned out for the grand opening of Skeetawk ski area at Hatcher Pass on Dec. 5. Skeetawk is planning on operating every Saturday and Sunday along with Mat-Su School Holidays, with the exception of Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Lifts are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are currently reporting an 18-22 inch base.

Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage opened their winter season on Dec. 3. They say the drop in temperatures has helped keep the snow in good condition.

Arctic Valley in Anchorage is planning to open this weekend, which they say is one of their earliest starts in recent years. The ski area is reporting a snow depth of 30 inches. Both Anchorage ski areas have restrictions and closures in place because of COVID-19 social distancing requirements but are also offering outdoor dining options.

Alyeska Resort is planning on opening on Dec. 18. The resort is reporting a snow depth of 22 inches at the base and 99 inches at the top of Glacier Bowl Express. You can find their operations plan and mask requirements here.

The winter recreation season is also in full swing around town. The Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department has started their regular ice and trail maintenance for ice skating and cross country skiing. You can find their updated ice and trail status report here.

Ice skating at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage on December 10, 2020.
Ice skating at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage on December 10, 2020.(Alaska's News Source)

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